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Mark Hommerding on being a servant leader

Mark Hommerding was presented the President's Award of Excellence at the 2023 SPOA conference

After attending the 2022 SPOA annual conference, Mark Hommerding set a goal. He was so impressed with the President's Award of Excellence (given to Claudia Dencer), that he had hoped to be worthy of it.

"It appealed to me because it means you're doing well by the people around you and that fits in with my servant leadership philosophy of life," he explained.

Hommerding talks about the many people who influenced his career and management style but a few names stand out. "There are dozens of people that have helped me on my own journey," he said. "That said, there are a couple of people in my career that made a bigger difference than others. One of them, I would say is Kevin Jardina, who headed the Herff-Jones photography division." While Hommerding was at Lifetouch, the company acquired the Herff-Jones Photography Division, which became part of Lifetouch's preschool business. Their time together overlapped for about a year and, in that time, Jardina made a big impact on Hommerding's outlook.

"He was my boss for the first year," recalls Hommerding. "When he took over the preschool division, he grew it from $30 million to $60 million in just a few years."

Later in a casual lunch meeting, Hommerding asked Jardina how he was able to double the division's volume with no major personnel changes.

"He said something to me that I just won't forget," recalls Hommerding. "He said, 'Mark, I just walked around and said, "What would you do if you were in my position?" And then I did that.' He basically listened to the people who were working with him gave them a voice and allowed them to be their best selves. That was huge."

Hommerding mentions, in the business classic, "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, there is the rare Level Five Leader, who is driven to produce excellent business results but does not bring attention to themselves. "Kevin might have been that Level Five Leader. He's just very unassuming and just a great guy."

The other executive that shaped Hommerding's career was David Leslie. "He just had a really high emotional intelligence," he recalls. "He could read a room as well as anybody and he could help me figure out what I needed to do to be successful Lifetouch. I got a good education at Lifetouch. I don't think that'd be an effective president at my current company if I hadn't been at Lifetouch and had that opportunity. He helped me on a professional level to understand what it means to be part of a billion-dollar company, rather than part of a local company in Des Moines, Iowa."

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